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President Assad is a ‘good man’, says Syrian archbishop

President Assad, with an unknown cleric, inspects the ruins of a monastery recaptured from Islamists (Photo: CNS)

One of Syria’s leading clerics has said that President Bashar al-Assad is a “good man” in an interview with Crux.

Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart, head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Archparchy of Aleppo, told the commentator John Allen that the Church in Syria could disappear as a result of the country’s civil war, which has cost over 200,000 lives in four years.

Warning of what might happen if Islamist rebels took over the country, Archbishop Jeanbart said: “We are not pro-Assad. We’re in favour of a government that’s open to all denominations. We’re in favour of a secular government. It may be led by Assad or someone else, but that’s what we want.”

But he added: “Personally, I would say that Bashar al-Assad is a good man. I don’t want to pass judgment beyond that, but I’ve met him a couple of times and all my colleagues, my fellow bishops and the priests and nuns, appreciate him. That doesn’t mean he’s an angel.”

The prelate, who has been archbishop for 20 years, said people in the country faced uncomfortable choices: “If we have to choose between ISIS and Assad, we choose Assad. If the choice were between a real democratic opposition and Assad, we’d wait and see. We’d leave our faithful free to do what they like.”

He urged the world to help Syria through relief agencies and charities such as Caritas and Aid to the Church in Need.